Chait’s culture war
Jonathan Chait has a new piece on Ayn Rand at The New Republic that attempts to tie together Rand’s philosophy with current conservative psychology. Much of it reflects standard and well-worn critiques of Rand, but it’s worth dwelling on one line of attack.
Chait’s strange turn is to attempt to completely divorce measures of productivity from compensation. He writes, “Is income really a measure of productivity? Of course not….Most of us perceive a world with its share of overpaid incompetents and underpaid talents. Which is to say we rightly reject the notion of the market as the perfect gauge of social value.”
I’m not sure that even strict Randians would argue that the market perfectly sets “social value,” whatever that is. Chait surely does not point to modern conservative commentators that have done so. Markets obviously prize skills differently.
Chait’s mistake is to conflate created economic value which is, indeed, measured financially by those willing to pay for services, with “social value.” He brings out the rather tired comparison of Donald Trump’s salary to “a thousand police officers.” Instead of revealing a shocking defect in the character of the rich, Chait has really just shown that rich people are good at things that make them rich, while many others are incapable or unwilling to do those things.
A good Randian would likely believe that Chait has missed the point completely. It’s not that economic value leads to social value; it’s that social value is not necessarily the end goal. Rand critiques the core principles that Chait, a good Liberal, would stand on – good of the many, wellbeing, fairness, etc. Without debating first principles, Chait’s piece appears to be a bit of a personal smear piece against Rand, her followers, and “The Rich” in general.